Later that evening, board members took the first step in choosing Cousin's successor, holding a public hearing and workshop. The board also said it would use a search firm to help narrow a nationwide pool of candidates.
"The PTA council has established an excellent rapport and open dialogue with Dr. Cousin and the department of education staff, and we would like to see this continue with the new superintendent," Hightower said. "It is the PTA board's expectation that the new superintendent will be thoughtful, analytical, approachable, and one who sees challenges as opportunities to enhance our school system."
Cousin, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, announced last month that he will retire in June 2012, at the end of his current contract. He had until next February to make the announcement, but said he wanted to give the board adequate time to find his replacement.
Cousin, who became superintendent in 2004, was on medical leave from December through April. He recently returned to work on a part-time basis.
On Tuesday, school officials announced that September will be the deadline for receiving proposals from superintendent search firms. The board is expected to select a firm by October, school officials said, and during November and December that firm will meet with committees and groups to discuss criteria for choosing the next superintendent.
In January, the school system will likely announce submissions for applications for superintendent and make final decisions on criteria. Then come evaluations and screenings, which will likely extend through March.
A list of final candidates and a public review process should come during April, and the school system will likely complete the process in May. The superintendent must be in place by next July, school officials said.
As board members discussed what lies ahead, county residents offered their take on what the board should look for in the next superintendent, and how it should handle the process.
Columbia resident Jane Schuchardt said the board should keep the selection process confidential.
"I am aware that this board has been very transparent in its actions, but this is one time you cannot be fully open to the public," said Schuchardt. She said she was involved in the selection process for a superintendent in 2000, and she reminded the school board that only one of its members, Sandra French, has participated in choosing a superintendent.
"The applicants for the position of superintendent are people that now hold top-level jobs, and they do not want to put their jobs or their career in jeopardy if they are not chosen for the position," Schuchardt added. "If you do not keep their information confidential they will either not apply or may withdraw their name from consideration."
The highly rated school system has nearly 50,000 students in 73 schools, 7,852 employees and a fiscal year 2012 operating budget of $684 million.
Cousin is Howard County's 15th superintendent since 1865, school officials said.